Sunday, February 5, 2017

Mastering the Forced Sabbatical

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kesgard.

Sometimes, we get to choose the next chapter in our life. That isn't always the case, however, as most often, choices are made for us as situations and circumstances change at a moment's notice. I know change is a difficult concept for anybody to deal with despite the fact that it's one of life's true constants - we are all in a constant state of alteration yet it seems like in human nature, we cling tenaciously to the constants as they provide some security in a fast paced environment. I attended one college for my undergraduate degree, a few stops for additional education and I've worked for the same company for 27 years albeit in different roles, so my life has been somewhat static to a degree. That hasn't always been the case - I had a brisk bout of new movement when I first met my now wife and we were busy setting up our life together, but I have also had issues reverting back to past patterns. It's a constant battle that I have waged for my now 50 years on the planet, but I will now have some extra time to plan an offensive because I have become the victim of a forced sabbatical. The media outlet that I worked for the past 9 years decided to go in another direction without telling me just recently, so my next chapter in writing begins with this post.

Being in sports for as long as I have, retirements are something that happen all the time for varied reasons. Perhaps it's related to injury as one of my heroes, Timbers center back Nat Borchers, had happen to him when he ruptured an Achilles tendon during a match last July. There was talk that he might try and resume his career in 2017, but it's tough to overcome an injury this severe being 36 years old. Another idol, Jack Jewsbury, hung up his boots after the 2016 season after finishing his 14th year of playing professional soccer to start a new endeavor working in the Timbers front office. The decision was likely made easier after the success of the Timbers in winning the 2015 MLS Cup as a highlight of their respective careers, but at the same point, I can imagine any choice whether to continue playing or not is a long and arduous one. After hundreds of practices, competitive matches and other appearances, it must be hard to reach the conclusion that it's all over.

Then again, the game often reinforces when a player's time is done - injury, age or otherwise. One of my favorite players of all time, Broncos quaterback John Elway, hung up his helmet after winning back to back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998 even though many thought he still had plenty in the tank. Writers, on the other hand, don't have such scrutiny because it's very rare to encounter such a situation. Sportswriters will continue to produce content as long as they have an outlet willing to publish their work, and it's not uncommon to see writers enjoy careers that span 20, 30, 40 or even more years than that. Even in the day and age where content now is managed and influenced by social media and the Internet, many writers have figured out how to remain relevant for many years. After my lengthy stretch, I was hoping to make the jump to double digits.

The reality is that we live in an age where difficult conversations don't happen for whatever reason. It's easier to avoid the situation and just not say anything versus actually saying a change is needed. I'm including myself in that group because I've avoided several unsettling talks because the outcome is potentially too uncomfortable. I think that choice is overlooking the growth that can come from facing your shadows, especially since for me, complacency or consistency is not my friend. That might seem unusual considering my history, but I tend to follow the adage - if it's not broke, don't fix it. This requires enough insight to know when something might not be working the way you want or there could be room for improvement, and honestly, I've lacked that for much of my life. I stick with the plan come hell or high water, and while it's gotten me to this point in one piece relatively, I also struggle with the tiniest of changes.

Nobody likes to be told they aren't wanted anymore, even if the conversation never actually happens. It might be easier to remain silent, but that doesn't take the hurt or confusion away anymore, and the lack of feedback could actually be more detrimental in the future. I don't think anybody realizes that at the time, and so it falls into the path of least resistance. So now, I get to spend my time honing my sports cliches, doing random research and figuring out the next path on my own. As scary as that prospect might be, it could also be incredibly liberating for many. I will need to tell myself each and every day that this is the right choice long term despite being incredibly scary. It's time to take the training wheels off and spread my wings, or add another crazy catchphrase to this post. I'm not sure exactly where this is going to go, but I'm excited for the ride and to see where it takes me. Thanks for reading this and talk to you all next time.


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